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Rescue Film Series: Ep. 3: Swiftwater Swimming

Swimming efficiently in whitewater, or swiftwater swimming, is essential for self-rescue, rescuing others and building your kayaking, rafting and canoeing confidence. NRS Ambassador Jim Coffey goes over water entry, ferry angles and eddy entry, as well as gear recovery after an unplanned swim.

Effective swiftwater swimming is important for self-rescue, but it’s also an important skill for helping rescue others. Use a “swiftwater entry” when diving into water from shore. Spring out so that you land with hands, face, chest and knees at the surface of the water. This shallow entry minimizes the chance of striking an underwater object and sets you up for immediate aggressive swimming strokes.

Just as in your kayak, you’ll need to utilize ferry angles in order to reach your intended target area with minimum effort. Conserve energy with a minimum 45-degree angle while swimming in moving water.

When getting out of the water it’s best to exit in the calmer water of an eddy. Eddy lines can be strong and hard to cross. Enter at a right angle to the eddy line, ideally with your upstream arm first. If you enter with your downstream arm first, the eddy line may spin your body and prevent you breaking through.

When performing self-rescue it’s best to retrieve as much of your gear as possible. Grabbing your paddle is your first goal. If you can’t hold onto your boat, your paddling companions can retrieve it.

When assisting in a rescue from your boat the first priority is rescuing the swimmer. When retrieving a boat you have options: You can plow the boat to shore, pushing it with your boat. A swamped boat will be heavy and hard to maneuver; if you can tip it up on your deck, cockpit down, you can remove most of the water, making it easier to move to shore. You can also tow the boat to shore, using your tow tether (“cow tail”). Anytime you are hooking something to your quick-release rescue belt you must be sure the belt is threaded properly so that you can release the object if needed.

From our lawyers: The series is a supplement to, not a substitute for, hands-on training classes.